There has been a lot of misinformation in the news lately about how expensive government is and in particular how the private sector can do it for less. This is just a smokescreen put forth to let the private sector undermine wages, working conditions and unions, not just in the government sector but in the private sector as well.
The most common method of transferring government functions or assets to the private sector is through contracting out agreements. However, there are several other methods, including vouchers, grants, franchises, deregulation, volunteerism, service shedding, public/private partnerships, asset sales and private donations.
Contracting out may have some short-term cost benefit because of low salaries, lack of benefits, and creative accounting tactics used by the private sector. But eventually, after the government body lays off permanent employees and liquidates solid assets, the costs rise. Further, because public input has been eliminated and workers are underpaid, the quality of services gradually declines.
In the crosshairs
California government services currently targeted for privatization include mental health, general services, administrative, schools, printing, social services, health care, transportation and corrections.
Major concerns about privatization include not only increased costs, decline in the quality of services and lack of public input, but also discrimination based on age, race and gender, payoffs, kickbacks, conflict of interest, price fixing, collusive bidding, and other forms of corruption. All these problems existed before the civil service was established and will slowly sneak back into government. In addition, the isolation of the disadvantaged will increase.
Government Code section 19130(b) allows the state of California to contract out jobs to the private sector under certain conditions. Areas where contracting out is allowed include state functions exempt from civil service under the state constitution; services not available through the civil service system; new state functions mandated by the legislature; incidental, temporary, urgent or occasional services; and training services which cannot be performed by the state. Union representatives have discovered during contract negotiations that management is checking inappropriate boxes to avoid being detected in illegal contracting out of state jobs.
What can we expect?
If public sector jobs are privatized, what can we expect? We know that the private sector is also contracting out jobs, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. There is an all-out attack on the working people of this country, as corporations are not only trying to compete in the global market but continue to increase their profits.
For example, Kmart laid off older employees in order to avoid paying retirement benefits. Walmart hired part-time employees who were not needed, then fired full-time employees to avoid paying benefits and higher wages. They still provide no health care package. Target bought out a union store and eliminated the union employees so they could pay lower wages. Bank of America, Ross Dress-for-Less, Burger King and others hire part-time employees in order to avoid providing benefits for their employees. We are witnessing the complete collapse of job security in this country.
The fact is, if you work for a living in America, you are outproducing other workers around the world, but you are being paid less in dollars adjusted for inflation than you were twenty years ago. In many cases, you are being paid less in actual dollars.
You need to rethink what is happening to your life and the lives of your parents and children. Your parents may be living below the poverty line and your children may see a return to the sweat shop conditions of past generations.
This article apeared in issue #17 of the Partisan (august 2003). It was written by C.T. Weber.